Category Archives: Norway

Rondane – Norway’s First National Park

2015/03/08-14: Ski Touring in Rondane with a DNT Tour

This one week ski trip was in the “sweet spot” of Norwegian weather: not too close to the ocean to have wet snow or high winds, but not so far from the coast as to have insufficient snow. The Rondane terrain is rolling countryside with mountain views. Because of its ideal location, and fabulous cross-country skiing terrain, the area has many full service cabins; essentially mountain hotels. Five of our six nights were in these hotels all of which featured excellent chefs, so it was a luxury experience. Our one night in a self service hut reminded me that you interact more easily with fellow skiers when chores have to be done together. So luxury had its downside.

Skiing into Rondvassbu. The peak we were hoping to climb but icy snow conditions did not allow.

The only disappointment for me on this trip was the conditions did not allow us to do a climb of Rondane’s highest peak on our one “non-travelling day”. We had good weather and reasonable snow conditions, especially after a snow storm on our second night.

View from our breakfast table second to last morning

Chris and Margo skiing at Rondane. Anybody want to join us next year?

Chris and Margo skiing at Rondane. Anybody want to join us for an independent tour next year?
(Photo courtesy of Pavel)

C

Huldreheimen – Norway Again

2015/02/21-26: Ski Touring in Huldreheimen with a DNT Tour

With our daughter putting down roots in Oslo, it only made sense to take advantage of the ski touring in Norway again this winter. Skiing from hut-to-hut across a snowy landscape has a satisfaction similar to that of bike touring, hiking, or paddling. Landscapes unfold at a relaxed pace, as one moves self-propelled across the terrain.

Our experience last year in Jotunheimen had bred in us a healthy respect for Norwegian mountain weather, and for the challenges of navigating accurately in whiteout conditions. We signed on for two more tours organized by the DNT – Norwegian Trekking Association – where we would have the security and sociability of a group of like-minded skiers.

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Although this Huldreheimen tour was graded at the same level of difficulty as our last year’s tour, the skiing days were shorter and the terrain less challenging. It made for quite a different trip.

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After a train ride to Lillehammer and several hours by bus to our trailhead, we climbed gently through birch forest to an undulating plateau. Over the next days, we dipped in and out of the gnarled trees as we moved from one self-service hut to another. We spotted a few ptarmigan, but not once did we glimpse a huldra, the mythical creature for whom this park area is named.DSC04463

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We were eleven skiers: nine participants led by sturdy and experienced leaders Espen and Helge. The other participants were Norwegians, Dutch, and Brits. Last year we were at the older end of the group’s age spectrum, but this year our grey hair was more or less the norm. Upon arrival at each hut we would set about lighting the stove and melting snow for water. A few of us would forage in the lager for canned goods and packaged food, and we made simple suppers that we wolfed down. The breakfast staple was havregrøt, enjoyed by everyone except Chris who ate Wasa crackers with jam, forever put off porridge by boarding school days.

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Our final night was one of luxury in a fjellstue or mountain hotel where we feasted on reindeer meat in green curry, and salmon salmon fillets in coconut milk. The woman who prepared our dinner was Thai, married to a local Norwegian; she’d developed Thai dishes based on local ingredients. We understand many young Norwegian women shun rural life, so marriages like this are not uncommon. We watched her blond husband, who had been both our minivan driver and our waiter, as he dropped Vitamin D into his daughters’ morning orange juice. Deficiencies are very common at this latitude, especially among people of darker complexion.

Returning to the train station in Lillehammer, backpacks and skis were everywhere. Passenger train cars are equipped with ski racks. On transit in Central Oslo as we returned, many passengers carried skinny skis as they commuted to or from the  marka – the forest that surrounds the city which is laced with prepared cross-country tracks. In a country where skiing is central to the national psyche, we cannot help but feel at home.

We leave again on Sunday for another ski tour. The task before then is to rid ourselves of the worst flu either of us has had in at least ten years.

M

Christmas and New Year at 60 Degrees North

Oslo is surprisingly far north, and surprisingly warm given that fact. But still you see frozen sea, and can take pictures of the sun rising at 09:45h and setting at 14:00h. Of course being crazy Norwegians, sports activities do not stop. Definitely not a good time of year for touring cycling. Here are a few pictures to support these statements.

Hill running in the snow

Hill running in the snow at -13C

 

Sea freezing

Sea freezing

Sun going down at 14:00

Sun going down at 14:00h

Me pushing a penguin around on the ice rink

Me pushing a penguin around on the ice rink

Sun rising at 9:45

Sun rising at 09:45h

Same as image above but taken at noon

Same as image above but taken at noon

C

Ski Touring in Norway

2014/03/8-13: Jotunheimen and Filfjell
We found ourselves in Norway in March to help celebrate a convergence of birthdays. The skiing was great, too. We’ve found another satisfying way of “wandering.”  There are various ways to propel oneself through a landscape, and the mode should fit the terrain and the season. In the mountains of Norway in late winter, skiing on Nordic back-country gear from hut to hut is ideal.

Where is the horizon?

I trudge on skis across an expanse of white, as gale force winds drive sleet pellets horizontally.  No clear horizon distinguishes land from sky. We are in Norway, part of a group of skiers is heading toward a simple mountain cabin in Jotunheimen National Park.  There is one more pass to cross before we reach shelter, and the wind will likely be even stronger as we climb the ridge.

I have no right to be surprised by the weather. The gear list provided by the Norwegian Trekking Association placed a clear emphasis on wind protection. We all have hoods drawn tight and are wearing goggles, leaving a minimum of skin exposed to the abrasion of ice particles driven by the wind.  We’re above 1000 metres in a tundra zone,  with a maritime effect from the nearby Norwegian Sea.  Temperatures aren’t far below freezing, but navigating in a whiteout is an eerie experience and the strength of the wind is beyond what I’ve experienced in a lifetime of skiing in Canada and more southerly Europe.  No wonder Norwegian explorers Amundsen and Nansen honed their skills here in the fjells; no wonder they led successful arctic forays.

Leaving the hut on the last day

This introduction to an article gives an idea of the weather challenges.

As first timers, we’d joined a tour organized  by the Norwegian Trekking Association. We were twelve skiers, including two leaders. Our group included Norwegians, Germans, Dutch, a Swiss lass, a Scotsman who spoke fluent Norwegian, and a Swedish lass who’d moved to Norway to be closer to real mountains. There was another Canadian in addition to me and Chris. Greg from Sault Ste. Marie was on an extended independent ski trek, having started further north weeks earlier. He arrived at our first hut,  Glendersheim, having spent an unplanned night outdoors due to navigation difficulties. We were early in the season, not all routes had been waymarked with birch boughs, and visibility was limited.  He joined our group for the week, as we were travelling his way. He was hauling a pulka, with his camping gear and supplies.

We were happy to be making use of the DNT hut system, and carrying relatively light packs of about 10 kg each. Our first night was at a serviced hut, where meals were served, showers available, and thermoses filled in the morning with our requested hot drinks. The next two nights were in self-service huts, where we dined on simple fare which we prepared from a stocked supply cupboard: “Joika” meatballs from a tin, mashed spuds from powder, and dessert of tinned peaches once we’d thawed these near the stove. Our fourth night was in comfort at the bottom of a small ski area, and our fifth in another self-service hut.

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Joika meatballs. Notice the traditional Sami hat.  “Joika” means traditional Sami music.

Jotunheimen-Filefjell ski trip March 2014

In the hut

This isn’t British Columbia. The mountains are rounded and the valleys are broad. There is not a tree in sight and nothing to stop the wind. At our lowest points, a few scrubby willows grew in narrow valleys. In broad high valleys, the snow had been scoured away by wind so that heather twigs protruded here and there. Snow conditions ranged from windpack to boiler plate ice. So beautiful. So rugged.

For the most part, we’d brought the right gear, but have fine tuned our choice of skis in preparation for next year’s venture.  With over 400 huts in the DNT system, the possibilities are endless. I’d like to do a longer journey, perhaps some of it independently. Our leader, Svein,  helped Chris hone his GPS navigation skills, an essential tool for progressing safely in weather like we had.

Jotunheimen-Filefjell ski trip March 2014

Our group, minus Chris the photographer. Margo is third from left. Leader Svein is taking a turn hauling Greg’s pulka.

Who knows what wanderings 2015 will bring, but till next year, Takk for turen.

M

A Week in Oslo

2013/08/26  to 2013/09/01: Friends – Rest – Bike Maintenance – Sightseeing
It was wonderful to be met after an overnight train journey by Thomas and Olav, who were waiting on the platform. I had argued with Chris that we could ride to their house, but he had maintained that we’d  be too tired to navigate safely through a new city after a rough night. Olav efficiently strapped our bikes onto a rack on their van.

Thomas plays the Russian national anthem

It was a wonderful week as far as getting to know new almost-family better, and catching up with old friends from our time living near Geneva.  We managed local walks, a tour of Olav’s workplace, a local weekday orienteering event, and we learned to use the Oslo transit system.

Brigitte’s homemade breakfast rolls

Early in the week, we took ourselves to the Fram Museum to see the polar exploration ship Fram, a Norwegian cultural icon. She was used by Roald Amundsen, Fritjof Nansen and others  in the late 1800s and early 1900s, both in the Arctic and the Antarctic.

Looking down the jump ramp; it’s an awfully long way!

We also went to see the Holmenkollen  ski jump and ski museum.  The view down the jump from from the top  is not for the faint of heart.  There is even a zip line descent option for the truly fearless – or completely insane – who are also prepared to pay a hefty sum for the privilege.

Some aspects of the ski museum were a trip down memory lane for me; I fondly remembered those wooden Splitkein skis with lignostone edges. There was even a segment about how early ski wax was made, which included the recipe. The ingredients listed are part of my family’s lore dating back to WW2 days when ski wax was unavailable in Canada. (It had previously been imported from Norway.) My father was training a ski platoon in the Laurentians north of Montreal, and it was an essential item. He made his own,  adding the key ingredient of  a few vinyl records which he melted into an aromatic cauldron of parrafin wax and boiling pine tar.  This was the first time I had seen the ingredients documented, though I’d heard the story of  the mysterious disappearance of a Benny Goodman record many times.  My aunt, the jazz enthusiast, never stopped suspecting that her cherished disc had become part of my father’s War Effort.

The Opera House roof is made to be walked upon.

The modern Oslo waterfront as seen from the Opera House roof

“The Nudes”

Later in the week we walked with Jo in parks and along down town waterfront, including onto the roof of Oslo’s new opera house. On our final day, we saw the Folk Museum with its wooden stave church and much more.  Jo cycled with us to the ferry terminal where we boarded our ship for Fredrikshavn, Denmark.

A stave church at the Folk Museum

M